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ING will not say goodbye to fossil customers, despite Milieudefensie’s demand

ING has officially responded to environmental organization Milieudefensie’s announcement of a climate lawsuit, stating that it will not terminate its collaboration with fossil fuel clients within one year, as demanded by the environmental group. ING’s CEO, Steven van Rijswijk, conveyed the bank’s perspective, noting that prematurely severing ties with fossil fuel clients would be too definitive. Milieudefensie had held ING accountable for causing “dangerous climate change” and demanded a 50% reduction in the bank’s total CO₂ emissions by 2030 compared to 2019, along with ending collaborations with polluting companies. ING’s official response, outlined in a letter seen by the Financial Times, rejects the demands.

Van Rijswijk, however, emphasized that ING and Milieudefensie share a common goal of addressing climate change. He stated that they both want the world to do more for the climate and maintain a trajectory limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius. While acknowledging this shared goal, the CEO highlighted a nuanced difference in approach. ING has gathered data from 2,000 clients to assess their climate plans and prefers to avoid an immediate departure from fossil fuel clients, wanting to observe their progress. Van Rijswijk explained that for some companies, transitioning to sustainability is challenging due to factors like a lack of renewable energy or pending permits.

Milieudefensie’s specific demand is for ING to cease financing fossil fuel clients that do not present an ambitious climate plan within one year. When questioned about potentially parting ways with fossil fuel clients, Van Rijswijk indicated that if a client’s climate plan is deemed insufficient, lacks ambition, and does not align with the Paris Climate Agreement, ING would consider ending the relationship. However, he expressed confidence that many clients are inclined towards sustainability and emphasized the need for patience in the transition.

Regarding the pace of global sustainability efforts, Van Rijswijk acknowledged that the oil and gas sector is not transitioning rapidly enough away from fossil fuels. He argued that for meaningful change, several factors are essential, including the promotion of sustainable solutions, carbon pricing, and supportive government policies. ING’s CEO emphasized the importance of playing a leadership role in the transition rather than abruptly exiting fossil fuels, as it may not contribute significantly to a greener world.

Responding to concerns about ING’s investments in the oil and gas sector, Van Rijswijk clarified that the bank will no longer finance oil and gas extraction by 2040. He emphasized a gradual reduction, with a 35% reduction in ING’s interests by 2030, aligning with climate science. Milieudefensie, expressing disappointment with ING’s response, indicated that legal action remains an option. The environmental group stressed the need for ING to be clear about expectations and consequences for companies failing to meet climate goals. The unfolding scenario will likely have implications for the broader discourse on corporate responsibility and climate action.

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